How Do I Find The Music I Listen To?

A family member recently asked me how I find all of the music that I listen to.  As a musician I want to keep up to date with what is going on.  At the same time I there is a lot of older music to look for inspiration in.  I feel like it is not only important what music one listens to, but also the context.  Certain music might open up more after you have heard something else.  It is like reading.  You can often enjoy a book without getting all of the literary references in it, but you might enjoy it more, or at least enjoy it in a different way, if the things a writer is alluding to are at least somewhat understood.  Music you might not like at one point in your life could suddenly open up and appear beautiful at a later date.  So while I think it is somewhat important to remain current with trends, especially with people that are pushing the envelope, going down your own unique path, looking forwards and backwards, is going to lead to a more satisfying place.  Plus in the past, due to technological limitations, people had to be creative in different ways.  When one couldn’t easily fix or edit something, a musician had to be creative in the moment, which often leads to more innovative musicianship, even if there are plenty of fine players and performers now.  At the end of the day all that matters is what you enjoy, but if you keep an open mind and seek new things, you can discover you will find all kinds of things to enjoy that you might not have thought possible.

I almost never listen to any kind of radio.  This is by circumstance and design.  At this point I have amassed a large collection of music, and because of this is makes it easier to find something I am in the mood for at any given time.  Also, aside from satellite radio and streaming, which I have never really gotten into, most mainstream radio is either flat out horrible or limited in scope.  Out of current AM/FM radio stations public radio is often the best.  I’m not saying there aren’t radio stations out there that are good, Austin has several, but I find that very little of the time do I hear something good that I haven’t already heard before.  Satellite radio is good, but I like to have more control over what I’m listening to.  Until streaming can provide artists with a viable economic model, I have no desire to go down that road and become part of the problem, even if I know it is a losing battle.  But more than anything with different forms of radio I, which I have found is typical for an introvert, want to control what I am listening to somewhat.

So how do I find a lot of the music that I listen to?  I read a lot about music.  I read blogs, music magazine websites, reviews, etc.  Even when I was young, before the internet became a major player, I read tons of music magazines and books about music.  I also try to find out what the musicians I like are influenced by.  Even if I will never meet many of my musical heroes, I will try to read about what influenced them.  Most of the time, but definitely not all, if I like an artist, what they like will be of at least marginal interest to me.  Many things I might not have found on my own have opened up to me this way.

I also ask people who share similar interests if they can recommend anything good.  Musicians that I respect have lead me to artists such as Ted Hawkins, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Boozoo Chavis, Doug Sahm, and many more.  Friends that are into music have lead me on to even more artists.  If I like something someone is listening to, I just ask, “Hey what else do you got?”

I also constantly surf different things where I can hear clips, whether that is YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, etc.  If I read about an artist or someone tells me about one, I often seek out clips.  But sometimes I just will randomly listen to clips off of a bunch of new albums, follow links, get lost down the internet rabbit hole.  I often spend hours doing this.  Music is not only my job, but my passion.  I could get home from a show and spend a couple hours just surfing different formats, just waiting to hear something I like.  It’s a form of relaxation for me, though sometimes it depresses me when I listen to a ton of new albums and can’t find even one that I like.  I try to buy at least some of the records I get in a store, as I think it is important to support local music stores, but late night with a credit card on the internet can be dangerous!  Often I will awake thinking, “What the fuck did I do?!!!”  Why God created drinking and online purchasing power I will never know.  It is a cruel joke of existence.

Sometimes I am ahead of the curve and sometimes I am behind it.  Sometimes I will discover a band years before they become popular and sometimes I am really late to the game.  It doesn’t really matter how you find what you like.  It doesn’t matter if you are into something that is popular or are stuck in some musical time warp waring out analog recordings on vinyl.  i don’t expect anyone to be as nuts about this stuff as I am, though some are even more obsessive than me.  However, I think because music is such a big part of our culture and history, one only needs to think of the counterculture movement of the 60’s, that it can be stimulating seeing what is going on, what has gone on, out there.

One final thought:  It doesn’t matter if something is popular or not.  i don’t like elitists that think something is not worthy if it finds a large audience.  Some of the best music ever created is music that in its time was extremely popular.  In recent years I have found that some extremely popular records, like Daft Punk’s R.A.M., were some of the best recordings out there.  However, popularity in no way means something is valid.  So many things die on the vine because they didn’t receive proper promotion, they were ahead of their time and people didn’t get them, or any number of reasons.  Popularity neither means something is bad or good.  In fact the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other, either way.

The Cure – The Hanging Garden

A recording that has kept making its way into the back of my mind over the last several months has been The Cure’s The Hanging Garden.  It is both atmospheric and exciting.  Driving bass and a great receptive drum part create a giant foundation for the song, while other things come in and out of the mix.  It sounds insane, while at the same time being a piece of work that is clearly done by people that know how to use the studio as an instrument itself.  It is such an interesting and unique piece of work.  Even The Cure, who came close with excellent songs like Burn and Bloodflowers, never did anything quite like it.  The whole record it is off of, Pornography, is a dark masterpiece, but The Hanging Garden is extremely accessible, despite the menace of the piece, in a way that some of the rest of the record is not.  Unlike a lot of indie music there is a bigness to this song.  Yet, unlike a lot of rock there is a true strangeness as well.  It’s emerged over the last year as one of my favorite recordings.  Check it out.  Hopefully it will inspire you to dive deeper.

Bryan Ferry – As Time Goes By

Usually when a modern artist decides to record a collection of standards it is a recipe for disaster.  I love Rod Stewart, even cheesy Rod Stewart, but I wouldn’t go near his American Songbook series in a bio suit.  Usually these kind of collections either mean the artist has reached an artistic nadir.  Even if you take these collections out of the context of an artist’s recording career, these albums are pointless exercises where superior material becomes watered down dreck.  I know that sometimes they sell like hotcakes, as we have whole TV shows in which future cruise ship singers try their hands from time to time at older material, but this just reinforces my belief that our culture is going to hell in a hand basket.

So it is with total surprise that I find that I really enjoy Bryan Ferry’s collection of standards, As Time Goes By.  Part of it might be that Ferry has always been partly an art project.  As a former art student and teacher Ferry no doubt has an eye for detail.  It seems like he has a genuine love for this material and he has found a sympathetic group of musicians that don’t ham it up too much.  Even when there are strings, it seems like they are arranged as part of movies from the era between the World Wars.  He also never over sings in the way that so many modern singers do.  Part of that is because he can’t; Ferry has never had a tremendous range, but this works in his favor.  It seems as if he is in the songs, not gesticulating widely on top of them.  Ferry, like Tom Waits, but in a completely different way, has always had one foot in the past.  While Waits recalls a certain prewar World War II rural violence, Ferry has taken elements from old movie stars.  Although this album is a minor addition to his catalog, it is a charming addition.

I like music for all occasions.  I find that if I play this album early in the morning, before I have had my coffee, when a loud snare fire might make me bite someone’s throat out like a vampire, or late at night, as one day bleeds into the next, this album creates just the right amount of stimulation.  It helps to think, without overwhelming one.  It becomes part of the environment, making my surroundings just a little more haunted and beautiful before I put it on.

Wavves x Cloud Nothings – Come Down

Looking through records, as always, and hoping something catches my ear, I heard this collaboration between Wavves and Cloud Nothings, Come Down.  It’s a lo-fi pop punk song that has just the right combination of extremely catchy melody and raw production.  There’s always a part of me, and I grew up on music like this, that is skeptical when a band (or bands) chooses to sound this ragged, questioning if it is just a pose.  But when it feels this right it is time to shut off the intellect and just go with it.  I also like the art design of the cover, which like the music appears thrown together, but is quite catchy.

Half Awake In a Fake Empire

Stay out super late tonight
Picking apples, making pies
Put a little something in our lemonade
And take it with us

Were half awake in a fake empire
Were half awake in a fake empire

Tiptoe through our shiny city
With our diamond slippers on
Do our gay ballet on ice
Bluebirds on our shoulders

Were half awake in a fake empire
Were half awake in a fake empire

Turn the light out, say goodnight
No thinking for a little while
Let’s not try to figure out everything at once
Its hard to keep track of you falling through the sky

Were half awake in a fake empire
Were half awake in a fake empire

I’ve been listening to The National’s album Boxer as it was suggested to me by a friend.  Knowing what little I know about The National, being an indie band from New York, you could see the song as a critique of hipster culture, or one of those songs that is about the age when partying starts to lose its luster.  However, I couldn’t help but think of American exceptionalism while listening to it. Although there have been a couple big wins for sanity in the last week, we still are a country that has an absurd divide between rich and poor.  We are still poisoning the only earth we are ever going to have.  Yet we constantly distract ourselves with a mainstream culture that is largely a wasteland, a senseless circle jerk.  Fame without talent or accomplishment, facts without context, people that talk constantly and yet seem to say nothing.  What good is wealth if it is created at the expense of others?  What good is fame if it is not married with any value outside of itself?  What good is knowledge if it is just the accumulation of board game trivia answers, a collection of the useless?  What point is speaking if it is only to spread misinformation?  Who cares how someone looks if their brain is full of spiders?  “We’re half awake in a fake empire…”

2004 Paul Westerberg Interview / Finally Here Once Silences the Van

Paul Westerberg Interview 2004

Paul Westerberg has always been one of my favorite songwriters.  One thing that often gets lost in the mainstream press, who are much more content telling Replacements drinking stories, is how great of a melody writer he is.  In fact I would put him up as one of America’s greatest melody writers since the beginning of rock n roll.  I mean other than someone like Brian Wilson, there aren’t many people that have written as many great melodies as he has.  But unlike a lot of people that can write great melodies, his songs also often have a grittiness to them.  His songs aren’t antiseptic sounding, nor overly sweet.  It is that contrast that makes him stand out.  You often get one or the other, but rarely both.  His songs feel lived in and true, while at the same time being highly memorable.  Even his more polished major label recordings have Kenny Jones (Faces) like drums on them and Westerberg’s rumpled sandpaper vocals.

I remember one time in the Shinyribs van I put the above song on, Finally Here Once, and about 10 seconds into the song the van went completely silent.  Afterwards everyone remarked on what a great song it was.  It’s an extremely lo-fi recording, so people weren’t getting off on some kind of sonic deal.  It’s just great writing.

Anyway, I saw that his website put the above 2004 interview on it, which I had read at the time, but found interesting going back to.

A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop

The new Neil Young + Promise of the Real album, The Monsanto Years, is out now.  This is a protest album Neil recorded with Willie Nelson’s sons, among others.  I haven’t heard the album yet, so I can’t comment on it.  Neil’s Living With War is one of my favorite political albums of all time.  I like political music in general.  Even if I don’t agree with every point an artist makes, I like when people aren’t afraid to go out on a limb.  There is some good fun to be had out there!